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Homoródszentmárton, Transylvania (Romania)

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Homoródszentmárton lies in Transylvania, Udvarhely county (46*14'N, 25*23'6''E), in the valleys of the Nagyhomoród river and the Gyepes and Kénos brooks. Its population is Hungarian, more than half are Unitarian, the rest are Reformed, Catholic and Baptist. The main occupation of the inhabitants is farming.

The area has been inhabited since ancient times, as proved by the Neolithic axe and urn found in the outskirts of the village a few decades ago. Roman coins found in the earth as well as the small lake formed in the shafts of what looks like an old salt mine testify to inhabitance during Roman times.The name of the village dates back to the middle of the 12th century, when Hungarian king Géza II brought settlers in the upper valleys of the Nagyküküllõ and Homoród rivers .The remainders of the first settlement were probably destroyed during the Tartar invasion of 1241, which would explain the fact that the churches in the region were all built in the style following the Tartar invasion. The old church of our parish - pulled down in 1887 - was also built at that time, and it used to rule the southern landscape with strong walls around it, offering shelter to people from the neighboring villages, too .The bastions were demolished the 19th century and out of their material a new school, a parish hall and a cantor's residence were built .The front bastion was heightened and turned into a steeple.

The old church, built in 1613, was owned by the Unitarians. According to a description made by an engineer , it was 13 fathoms long and 3 º fathoms wide. Having in view the contemporary figures as well as the fact that following the death of Dávid Ferenc the parishes under oppression did not grow and the number of the church members did not increase, we may correctly assume that our church was established under our first bishop and as such it is one of the first Unitarian churches in Transylvania. The life and soul of the church were the Birós, who up to the middle of the 19th century, by way of their wealth and connections had been like a shield for the Unitarians of Homoródszentmárton. The tokens of their generosity were a bell cast in 1666 by Biró István and Baltazár and a communion cup made of lead donated in 1695 by Mrs. Biró Bálint Mohai Adviga. Of the relics destroyed during the first world war a Turkish rug dating from the 17th century and a fine piece of embroidery, a minister's seat spread made of silk in 1695 , are worth mentioning.

The Birós gave our church the first chief warden, Samuel, who had an immense role in assuring the future of the Unitarian Church. We owe it to the Birós that our congregation has remained Unitarian throughout the storms of history. The Unitarian branch of the family sank into poverty a century ago and died out, whereas the Catholic line of the family still lives in Betfalva. The parish of Lókod - 2.5 km away - used to be a branch of our church since it was formed .This parish became independent on 25 June, 1803 and therefore did not have to contribute to the restoration of the walls.

Until the 1770s the Unitarian church was the only one in Homoródszentmárton. But then the Ugron family founded a reformed congregation of reformed serfs, among whom a few had been converted by force from Greek -Catholic religion.. On the Biró estate - which they had gained through marriage- they built a church and as patronizing-family they supplied almost all of the minister's salary. Encouraged by this the Unitarians tried to convert a few Greek-Catholic serfs themselves, but seeing their devotion to their faith , they refrained from using force. They were satisfied with their tithe being paid to them. This went on until 1848, but in 1849 these former Greek-Catholics became full members of the Unitarian church of their own will. Based on the records we have, we can rightfully claim that our congregation has always treated the question of religious conviction with utmost patience and tolerance.

The real problem was the condition of the buildings. While it was needed, the fortress had to be maintained in good shape, and then there was the church and the buildings pertaining to it. In 1741 all the buildings on the minister's lot became the prey of flames. It is a proof of the peaceful relationship between the Reformed and the Unitarians that after the fire Ábránfalvi Ugron Ferenc and his wife, Biró Mária made a financial contribution to the rebuilding of the parish hall.

In 1847 the church that seated 84 people and whose walls were decorated with beautiful frescoes was found in such a bad condition that it had to be pulled down. They even made a collection, but the work was put off because of the revolution in 1849.A few years later the money that had been raised made only a major repairing possible. After forty years of renovation the building was officially closed in 1887. The 600 year old building was demolished and in its place the present day church was built.

During the constructions Unitarian church services were held in the Reformed church, where on 11 June 1888 minister Dombi Mózes died during service. The construction was carried on by Dombi János, who had been invited to come home from the parish of Datk.

According to Draskóczi Jenö , an engineer from Udvarhely, the first service in the new church was held on 22 December 1889. Yet for lack of funds the inauguration ceremony could only take place on 10 July , 1892.

During the fifteen years preceding the building of the new church the congregation had constructed a new school and new homes for the cantor-teacher and the minister. Due to planning errors though, the new church-building had to be repaired several times , which meant a heavy burden for the congregation till 1939 , when the church and the steeple were fixed with iron fittings.

The first world war left permanent marks on the life of the congregation and the village. The existing funds depreciated and the church lost a bell made in 1666 . The pipes of the organ made in 1844 did not escape the plundering of the occupying soldiers either. In the center of the village a memorial was erected to commemorate the 37 men who died in the war. After the Trianon peace treaty there were many restrictions , religious winter celebrations were forbidden, services were attended by informants , the members of the congregation were harassed, the teachers who refused to swear in were fired , ministers were jailed and the people were threatened with being forcibly converted.

On 7 September 1919 minister Zoltán Sándor was arrested and taken to Udvarhely and then to Kolozsvár. Meanwhile our school had been confiscated , but in 1940 it went back to church property for a short while, only to be taken over by the ministry of education during communist nationalization. Under these circumstances the visits paid by American brethren on 8 April 1920 and 20 July 1922 were a real jubilee for our church . Following these visits we established a partnership with the Unity Church of Mount Claire , New Jersey. Out of the donations of our partner church and the people who had immigrated from Homoródszentmárton and were living in a city called Indiana Harbor, a new bell was purchased in 1923. The names of these people, who in spite of living abroad were fully committed to their homeland, are worth mentioning : Csala István and his wife Sándor Ida, Joe Wash, Kelemen Dénes, Sándor Lajos and his wife, Vajda Károly, Toth István, Wagner Willmos, John Poca, Benedek László, Silló Dénes and Both Károly , who contributed 24 dollars to the 160 $ received from Mount Claire.

In 1920 the number of the people in the village was 875. Out of these 468 were Unitarian, the rest being Reformed, Roman Catholic, Baptist and Jewish. The Unitarian school had become a Romanian public school while the Reformed school remained ecclesiastic for some more time. Our church had run a school till 1848, the expenses being paid by the community, in 1904 the school was taken over by the state of Hungary. Following the 'nationalization' in 1919, after two years of struggle, the school had been closed for lack of supplies . After this 60% of the children went to the public school while 4o% attended the ecclesiastical school. Despite the hardships the church still had a youth group and a women's group working, and between 1940-44 was running a kindergarten with state support.

The Second World War had its disastrous consequences, too, 19 men died in the senseless struggle. After 1947 the life of our congregation changed. Forced industrialization led the young people away depriving the village of its sources of energy. The well-handled homogenization policy changed the ethnic composition of the village and the region. Due to the diminished economic potential, the limited possibilities for learning and mortality the congregation had lost 200 members compared to 1920.The buildings that went to state property during the communist regime have not been returned yet. The 23 acres of land are now owned by the church, but the situation of the forests is still unclear.

Unfortunately the change of regime in 1989 did not turn things around in the economic situation of the village. The misguided agricultural policy has impoverished the congregation, instead of the much coveted upswing there was decline as far as economy, culture and religion are concerned. The young people did not move back to the village and years go by without a single christening or wedding in our church. In the last ten years we lost 68 members and it is more and more difficult for the aging congregation to uphold the church .

-List of known ministers of the Unitarian Church in Homoródszentmárton:
Dálnoki Ferenc : 1632
Szentábrahámi György : 1687
Ferencz Tamás : 1659(?) - 1715
Kovács Keresztes : after 1740
Szentgyörgyi János : 1746
Bölöni Tana Ferenc : 1777 April 24 - 1785 June
Városfalvi Gedö István : 1785 June 27 - 1794 June 9
Nyárádszentlászlói Vitálius Mihály : 1794 July 27 - 1805 March
Szabó István : 1805 May 12 - 1813 May
Sárdi Sámuel : 1813 June 16 - 1814 June
Györfi Sándor : 1814 August 14 - 1819 December
Nagykadácsi Inczefi József : 1820 May 23 - 1824 May 4
Derzsi Bartha Mózes : 1824 May 24 - 1836 November 12
Cserei Mózes : 1837 May 7 - 1871 April 21
Homoródszentmártoni Dombi Mózes : 1871 June - 1888 June 11
Homoródszentmártoni Dombi János : 1888 September -1912 August 31
Halmári Zoltán Sándor : 1912 September 8 - 1964 October 1
Gellérd Imre : 1965 - 1980
Kászoni Kövendi József : 1980 - 1994
Krizbai Béla : 1995 - 2002
Szombatfalvi József : 2002 -

-Notes on ministers and lay people who were prominent figures of our church in this century:
Zoltán Sándor
Beginning with 1912 he had been a minister in our church for 52 years. He spoke several languages and was a qualified theology professor who published several studies and sermons in religious periodicals. The unfavorable political conditions as well as the flimsiness of his fellows prevented him from becoming a famous university professor .
Gellérd Imre
"He would have become a doctor if the misery of orphans had not been his lot. He would have been a professor at the theological school if he had not been more welcome in the jail for political convicts." This erudite minister had made both friends and enemies focus their attention on Homoródszentmárton between 1965 and 1980.He used to say 'Ideas and truth are more important than life itself. I prefer suffering and death to disloyalty.' On his 60th birthday he parted with his life. Instead of making a compromise he chose to die. His doctor's dissertation - "The History of the Transylvanian Sermon-Literature between the 16 th and the end of the 19th century" was published in English and we hope that we can soon read it in Hungarian ,too.
The memory of these ministers is cherished by wooden obelisks in our churchyard , reminding us of the words: " I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work."(John 9:4)
Zoltán Aladár
A composer born in our congregation as son of minister Zoltán Sándor - who pointing out the role of music in his family said: "I can underestimate neither the role of my father playing the harmonium and the flute nor that of my sister playing lighter dance music on the piano .The fact that my first composition was a waltz 'á la Strauss' (in H-minor ,goodness me!) points to my sister's influence."
In 1951 he took a degree in teaching music, in 1952 in composing and in 1953 in conducting. Since 1968 until his death in 1978 he had been vice president of the Association of Romanian Composers and director of the State Philharmonics in Marosvásárhely. For his work and his merits he was awarded several prizes : 1966 -Order of Culture IV; 1967 - Enescu Composers' Award (Romanian Academy) ; Ion Vidu Chorus Award; 1972 - Association of Composers' Award ( Symphony II)
According to Hencz József " The music of Zoltán Aladár has grown into a huge unfinished symphony. It is our duty to discover the inner harmony of this uncompleted oeuvre. He used to create, work and do his everyday duties, and then he overcame himself and was reborn in the painful magnificence of creation a hundred times, and he laid out his soul and music with the unselfishness of the eternal donator." A black marble plaque commemorates him on the wall of the parish hall.
The Biró family from Homoródszentmárton
At the beginning of the 18th century the Birós were 'one of the most distinguished families ' they belonged to the gentry and were leading figures of the movements of their age.
Biró Sámuel spoke and acted against the efforts of the counter-reformation to abolish Protestantism , especially Unitarianism in Transylvania. In 1716 they started to destroy the spiritual centers of the Unitarians and expropriated their schools.
In March, 1718 we lost the new high school in Kolozsvár and the church in the center, too. On 8 April when the diet assembled in Kolozsvár the Unitarian noblemen thought that the moment had arrived for the secular forces to join the leadership of the church to fight the counter-revolution. We do not know exactly who attended this meeting, but a document has been preserved from which we can learn the main resolutions :
1. The involvement of lay people in leading the church
2. The restarting of the Unitarian high school and its maintenance through collections
3. Establishing the function of chief warden. Thus in April the Unitarian church had two chief wardens , one of whom was Homoródszentmártoni Biró Sámuel, the other one was Désfalvi Simon Mihály . Following this the Unitarian High School was opened in the Huszár - house , Belmagyar street, Kolozsvár, with 9 students and Kolozsvári Dimény Pál as headmaster, who was followed by Szentábrahámi L. Mihály in 1720.The future bishop - Szentábrahámi L. Mihály , 'the eyes, heart and mouth' of the Unitarians - had been supported by Biró Sámuel while studying in Leiden , Frankfurt and Halle. When the Parliament formed a committee to supervise the issues affecting the future of Transylvania, Biró Sámuel as president of this committee was assisted by Szentábrahámi L. Mihály.
Of the Birós three other people are worth mentioning Biró Zsigmond, supervising warden of Udvarhely and Biró Mózes and Biró József, members of the chief council.
Biró József supported and carried on his grandfather Biró Sámuel's dream : the building of a high school in Székelykeresztúr. It was due to his support that the construction started in 1792. In appreciation of his services in 1799 he was elected supervisor of the Keresztúr district and on 4 July 1813 supervisor of the high school. It was his merit also, that in 1818 the school was rebuilt of stone.
The family tradition was carried on by his son, József, who in 1834 attended the Parliament's session as 'royal officer'.
The last representatives of this celebrated family are mentioned in a real-estate register issued on 30 May 1892, according to which in 1874 - 1879 Mrs. Kõkõsi József Biró Julianna and Mrs. Huber József Biró Anna sold all their lands - 111 acres and 1359 fathoms - to local small farmers : Dombi Ferenc jr., Dombi Pál , Dombi Mózes senior, Dombi Mózes and minister Dombi Mózes. Julianna and Anna Biró moved to Keresztúr.
The Catholic descendants of the family, who lived in Betfalva, reclaimed their nationalized estates after 1989 and they come home for regular visits from Germany.
Wass Albert: Heritage
Roman Viktor (1937 - 1995) " A statue must express something. If nothing else, it should express the personality and soul of the artist. That's why an artist looks for the most suitable material, which should render his lifestyle and character. I started sculpting in the brick-yard of my native village, playing with clay. This joy has stayed with me ever since, I relive it when I touch clay. Later things get more complicated ; playing is just a small part of creating, which I think, should be a game and a joy. I think that every artist should remain a child, a child playing with his toys. But then things change: we've got thousands of things to consider, that is we have to feel them with our instincts. I usually sense things, and I should thank God for this gift.

I can find joy easily. But then carrying things out the way I have conceived them is a different matter. That's when the anguish starts, since we want to be as perfect as a child playing his games whole-heartedly.

The most important factor in sculpting is light. You can ruin a statue completely by putting it in the wrong place. This has to do with space, but with light as well. And a statue must not only receive light from outside, this has to be inside it. Light does not only mean sunshine. A statue needs inner light. Light must be in the statue itself. And then this must be in harmony with the sun. I feel that the best place for a statue is in the sun, between heaven and earth." ( From the notes of Paul Barba-Negra, Saron-sur-Aube, 1994) The people of Homoródszentmárton remember these people with appreciation and gratitude. We also pay the tribute of respect to those anonymous members of the congregation , who , throughout the centuries, had helped and made our church renowned through their actions led by faith. "The conscious acquiescence of poverty implies the gift of being friends with God. The poorer a man , the closer his relationship with God ." (Márai Sándor)

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